Due process is in the crosshairs, and last week Harvard University provided a disturbing and textbook example of the power of private actors to punish the exercise of vital American freedoms. In a letter dated May 11, Harvard College notified the residents of Winthrop House, a residential house for undergraduates, that their Faculty Deans — Ronald Sullivan and his wife Stephanie Robinson — were effectively terminated. Though they both still teach at Harvard Law School (Sullivan runs its Criminal Justice Institute), Harvard was not renewing their deanship.
This internal personnel decision was national news for a clear and simple reason: Sullivan came under fire when he joined Harvey Weinstein’s defense team. As the New York Times wrote, “many students expressed dismay, saying that his decision to represent a person accused of abusing women disqualified Mr. Sullivan from serving in a role of support and mentorship to students.”
Students launched a petition demanding his removal as dean. “Dozens of protesters” demonstrated outside an administration building, holding up signs that said “Remove Sullivan” and “#MeToo.” The editors of the Harvard Crimson attacked his decision to defend Weinstein. And graffiti was sprayed on Harvard buildings, including statements such as “Our rage is self-defense” and “Whose side are you on?”
Rather than defending the embattled dean — Harvard’s first black faculty dean — the university initiated a “climate review,” and the results of that review provided the pretext for his termination. Harvard claimed that concerns about the climate in Winthrop House were “serious and numerous,” and the “actions taken” to improve the climate were ineffective.